VIETNAMESE PAINTINGS, WOODBLOCK PRINTS AND SCULPTURE

VIETNAMESE FOLK PAINTINGS

Folk paintings are a combination of traditional cultural values with ancient artistic methods that have been created through the labor of past generations. There are two types of Vietnamese folk paintings, Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) paintings and worshipping paintings. The Vietnamese believe in ancestor worship and the deification of natural phenomena, both of which are reflected in the paintings. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Due to their historical popularity, the folk paintings were produced in large quantities. This high demand was met through the use of the woodblock carving printing technique, which has been practiced by the Vietnamese for many centuries. During the Ly Dynasty (12th century), there were many families who specialised in woodblock carving. By the end of the Tran Dynasty, they were also printing paper money. At the beginning of the Le So Dynasty, the Chinese technique of carving printing boards was adopted and improved. The History Museum and the Fine Art Museum in Hanoi still keep old printing boards as archives. ~

During the Mac Dynasty (16th century), folk paintings developed quite extensively and were popular among the aristocracy in Thang Long. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the art of folk painting was stable and highly developed. Depending on artistic style, drawing-printing technique, and the materials used, folk paintings are classified into painting trends according to the name of their place of production. ~

Each style of painting is different. However, in all the styles, shapes are created based on the concept of don tuyen binh do (single line-simple designs), which uses lines to bend the colored shapes and to make a border for the picture. Another method used is thuan tay hay mat (easy to draw and to see). With this design form, the folk paintings do not depend on the rules of perspective. The deities are large and take the upper positions, while the ordinary people are drawn on a smaller scale and the size of the animals and the natural scenery depicted depends on their relationship to the sentiment or story being expressed. These unique characteristics make the paintings profoundly impressive. As a result of cultural exchange, Vietnamese folk paintings have retained and developed certain traditional aspects. As well, the paintings have been influenced and enriched by the genius of other painting styles. One exception is Dong Ho paintings, which continue to exist unchanged against the challenges of time. ~

Dong Ho Paintings and Hang Trong Paintings

Dong Ho paintings which originated in the Red River Delta, are the most famous. The artists coat do paper (the Rhamnoneuron paper) with diep powder (a white powder made from the shells of diep, a kind of fluvial bivalve mollusk) to make silver lustre glitter. Sometimes yellow flower powder called Hoa hoe or orange-red sapandwood powder is used to make the colors more elegant and shiny. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

On that background, the colors are applied with a woodblock. Some of the paintings only have simple black lines, while others are printed with one other color. All of the materials for creating the colors for these paintings come from nature. A wide spectrum of colors can be made using mixing and multi-colored printing techniques. Dong Ho paintings reflect people’s innermost feelings, wishes, and simple dreams. Because the paintings appeal to so many people, they are available throughout the country, from the village markets to the capital city. ~

Hang Trong paintings are also printed with black lines to form the basis for the color. But, unlike Dong Ho paintings, they are made by hand. Large sheets of imported paper and brightly colored paints are used for Hang Trong paintings. The content of these paintings are very much influenced by Chinese drawings. Hang Trong paintings are popular as worshipping paintings in temples. As such, the paintings are often hung in spacious living rooms or in holy places. Hang Trong paintings have traditionally served the poorer classes and are made and sold in the capital city. ~

Kim Hoang Paintings and Sinh Village Paintings

Kim Hoang paintings, which are often called red paintings, are made on the outskirts of ancient Thang Long. Kim Hoang paintings are printed and drawn on imported colored paper (yellow, bright red, pink) and printed with black lines and shapes; other colors used to separate the shapes. The colors are applied in rough, but flexible lines. Sometimes, the paintings are reprinted to create clear line. The colors used for Kim Hoang paintings are bought and then mixed by the painters, except for indigo, which is self-processed. The themes of Kim Hoang paintings are similar to those of the Dong Ho paintings, but there are also Chinese character paintings Phuc, Loc, Tho (meaning "Happiness", "Good Luck", and "Longevity" respectively), that have the typical flower of each season printed next to each character. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Sinh Village Paintings, which come from Sinh Village, a suburb of Hue City, are well-known in the central region of Vietnam. Most Sinh Village paintings are used for worship, and they express the mystical, nature-based beliefs of the ancient Vietnamese. Among these pictures is the Tuong Ba (Statue of the Lady) painting, the guardian angel of women. Sinh paintings are made using just one printing-board to create the drawing lines and black shapes. After being printed in black, the work is sometimes completed with embellishments made with colorful lines. Some paintings are still printed on rustic paper. ~

Traditional Vietnamese Sculpture

In the realm of traditional art, Vietnamese sculpture has had a significant history of development. Vietnamese sculpture has been heavily influenced by the three traditional religions, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, which come from neighboring countries China and India. Examples of early Vietnamese sculpture can be found in common houses, temples, and pagodas. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The main categories of Vietnamese sculpture include: 1) The sculpture of the Funan and Champa kingdoms in South Vietnam; 2) The sculpture of the Chams in Central Vietnam; 3) The sculpture of the Dai Viet in North Vietnam; and 4) The sculpture of the Grave Houses in the Central Highlands.

The prehistory covers the period from the Nui Do culture, 300,000 years ago, to the Dong Son culture, 2,500 years ago. Cultural activities from this time are not clearly known, nor are the artistic practices. There are no prehistoric sculptures, only expressions or manifestations. For example, a 10,000- year- old carving of three human faces and a wild animal can be found in Dong Noi Grotto (Lac Thuy District, Hoa Binh Province). Small ceramic and stone carvings have also been uncovered at archaeological digs in Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, and Go Mun. The Dong Son culture is famous for its kettledrums, small carvings fastened to objects of worship, and home utensils, which have handles sculpted in the shape of men, elephants, toads, and tortoises.

Sculpture of Grave Houses in the Central Highlands: The five provinces of Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong are located in the highlands of south-west Vietnam where a brilliant culture of Southeast Asian and Polynesian nations lived. The linguistic families of the Mon-Khmer and Malay-Polynesian played the main role in the formation of the language of the Central Highlands, as well as the traditional customs, which have remained very popular among the scattered communities of the region. Mourning houses erected to honour the dead of the Gia Rai and Ba Na ethnic groups are symbolised by statues placed in front of the graves. These statues include couples embracing, pregnant women, and people in mourning, elephants, and birds.

Cham Sculptures

The association between the two Cham clans of Cau and Dua led to the establishment of a feudal state, which was heavily influenced by Hinduism. The royal kingdom of Champa took shape in what is now South Vietnam. This ancient country was dispersed along the coastline. Archaeologists believe the kingdom began to develop during the second century, but it was only during the 7th and 8th centuries that the presently-found forms of Cham architecture and sculpture were created; this time period is closely linked to movements of Buddhism and Hinduism. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Chams possessed astounding creative ability and produced magnificent works of art and architecture. The most magnificent remains of the Cham civilisation can be found in Amaravati (Quang Nam Province), Vijaya (Binh Dinh Province), Kanthara (Nha Trang) and Paduranaga (Phan Rang). Sculptures were harmoniously laid together in architectural complexes, which were based on the distinct functions of particular towers. ~

The development of Cham sculpture is divided into six main periods: 1) My Son E1(first half of the 8th century); 2) Hoa Lai (first half of the 9th century); 3) Dong Duong (end of the 9th century); 4) Tra Kieu(end of the 9th century and beginning of the 10th century); 5) Thap Mam (12th and 13th centuries); and 6) Poklong Gialai (end of the 13th century to the 16th century). In 1470, Emperor Le Thanh Tong conquered the South and was followed by Vietnamese immigrants who were encouraged by the Nguyen lords to move. Since that time, the art of the Chams remains as a tribute to the outstanding heritage of their splendid past. ~

Ly Dynasty (1010 - 1225) and Tran Dynasty (1225 - 1426) Sculpture

Ly Dynasty (1010 - 1225): Dai Viet became an independent, powerful state after Ly Cong Uan came to the throne and moved the nation’s capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long (present-day Hanoi). Buddhism became the national religion, and it gradually became a part of everyday life. Buddhist centers formed in Quang Ninh, Ha Nam, Nam Dinh, and,especially in Bac Ninh Province. The native area of the Ly Dynasty was built in the traditional architectural style of Southeast Asia. During this time, pagodas were generally built in grades, with high towers and statues of Buddha at the center. The statue of Amida Buddha in the Phat Tich Pagoda (built in 1057) was one of the first works of Buddhist sculpture in the north. A monument found at the Dam Pagoda (built in 1086) is derived from the Cham symbols of Linga and Yoni. At 5.4m high, this is an imposing work. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Tran Dynasty (1225 - 1426), which followed the crumbling of the Ly Dynasty, continued the development of Vietnamese feudalism. Victorious resistance against Mongolian invaders in 1258 and 1288 preserved the independence of the country and had a deep influence on literature and arts. At the same time, war ravaged the country, limiting artistic creation. Buddhism continued to be widespread; however, pagodas of this period were not as fantastic as previously constructed pagodas. Numerous lotus form rectangular bases for statues were produced that can presently be found in pagodas in Thay, Boi Khe, and Duong Lieu. ~

Woodcarvings and engravings with subjects of dancing dragons and fig tree leaves can be found in Pho Minh Pagoda (Nam Dinh Province) and Thai Lac (Hung Yen Province). In the mausoleums of the Tran Dynasty, stone sculptures are mainly of men and animals paying respect to the royal family. The statues of tigers in Tran Thu Do’s mausoleum (one of the founders of the Tran Dynasty) and the statues of buffaloes and dogs in Tran Hien Tong’s mausoleum are the first forms of sculpture in Vietnam’s tombs. ~

Le Dynasty (1427 - 1527) to Nguyen Dynasty (1802 - 1945) Sculpture

For 100 years from the beginning of the Le Dynasty (1427 - 1527), Buddhism gradually integrated into all the villages and hamlets, and Confucianism began to play an important role in royal matters and in the agricultural economy. Relations between farmers and landlords flourished. However, aside from the three impressive stone statues erected at the Ngoc Kham Pagoda (Bac Ninh Province) at the beginning of the Le Dynasty, the image of the Buddhist sculpture faded out. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Instead, Buddhist sculptures were replaced by magnificent works on the mausoleums and tombs of the Le emperors in Lam Son (Thanh Hoa Province). Following the style of Emperor Le Thai To’s Mausoleum, built in 1433, eight mausoleums for kings and two for queens were built. They had square surfaces with a path in the middle for the gods to run through. Along the sides, there were two rows of statues of mandarins, unicorns, horses and tigers. After 20 years of war with the Chinese Ming occupation (1407–1427), the country was devastated. Numerous products were stolen, temples and pagodas were destroyed, and skilled workers were captured and transferred to China. Emperor Le employed farmers from neighbouring villages to carve statues and to build mausoleums. As a result, the new monarchy saw the production of relatively poor quality sculptures. ~

The Mac Dynasty, which lasted from 1528 to 1598, followed the Le Dynasty. A new style of commercial house sculpture (dinh lang), which was a stark contrast to previous religious and feudal works, developed throughout the countryside. In the 17th century, Nguyen lords came into power and conquered the South. Seven conflicts broke out between the Trinh and Nguyen families during this century. Buddhism was restored and was considered the salvation of the people’s spirits. Over the next 200 years, culture and arts developed and reached high levels of prosperity. Sculptures became more and more diverse and included Buddhist sculptures in village pagodas, sculptures of native religious beliefs in temples, and sculptures for the mausoleums and tombs of the emperors and mandarins of the Le and Trinh dynasties. ~

The statue of the goddess Kuanin with 1,000 eyes and 1,000 arms in the Ha Pagoda (Vinh Phuc Province) is a fine example of the grandiose sculptural work of the 16th century. The Kuanin statue in But Thap Pagoda (in Bac Ninh Province) is symbolic of 17thcentury work. The statue is 3.7m in height, and features 48 large arms and 952 smaller ones, all of which are bunched, together in a dark ring around the eyes. Sculptures featured in commercial houses, such as in Phu Lac, Chu Quyen, Tho Tang, Lien Hiep and Huong Loc, are full of vitality and have liberal features and imposing structures. The identities and styles are a mix of deity and Buddhist images, commercial life, and agriculture. ~

The Nguyen Dynasty (1802 - 1945) saw the transfer of the capital from Hanoi to Hue, and the building of a grandiose imperial city and a complex of mausoleums and tombs. The sculptures of these feudal mausoleums and tombs are considered to be artistically weak and rigid. ~

Vietnamese Buddhist Sutra Woodblock Prints

The Buddhist Sutra woodblocks of Truc Lam Zen in Vinh Nghiem Pagoda have been recognized by UNESCO World Documentary Heritage. The woodblocks are used to print Buddhist sutras According to UNESCO: "The exceptional content of the Woodblocks shows the formation, development, and ideology of this typical Vietnamese Buddhist school of thought as well as other books written by Buddhist monks. Their uniqueness further lies in that they are the only set of woodblocks that survived the First and Second Indochina Wars. This collection, dated from the 19th and 20th centuries, consists of 3,050 woodblocks, currently stored at the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda and was based on the original Truc Lam Zen woodblocks used in mass printing of Buddhist texts in the 13th century that were destroyed or lost to war and weather. Woodblock production techniques were complex but these techniques were lost when their production was discontinued because of modern day technology and information for engraving was not transmitted to the next generation. [Source: UNESCO]

Used as talismans, religious images, and as works of art, Vietnamese woodblock prints illustrate the continuity of cultural expression in this rich and ancient civilization. Traces and Traditions follows the evolution of woodblock printmaking from early impressions by Vietnamese ethnic minorities, to historic Buddhist images and texts, to traditional Dong Ho folk prints, to the work of leading contemporary printmakers working in Vietnam today. [Source: IPCNY Exhibitions <*>]

Among the most interesting historic prints are rare Oriental anatomic charts from the Tay minority, which combine the occult and the scientific. Chinese characters fill an outline of the human form and are used by by fortune tellers to identify ailments. Contemporary artists represented include Phan Cam Thuong, his accomplished former student, Le Quoc Viet, and three additional printmakers: Tran Nguyen Dan, Luu The Han and Nguyen Duc Hoa. <*>

Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty

In July 2009, the woodblocks of the Nguyen Dynasty were recognized as a World Documentary Heritage. They became the first entry of Viet Nam in the list of UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme. The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty are particularly rare documents in Viet Nam as well as in the world. Under the Nguyen Dynasty, due to the need to popularize social standards, compulsory articles of law, Kings’ and Lords’ life and career and historical events ... the Imperial Court allowed to carve many sets of history books and literature work for delivering. During the past activities, it helped to form a special type of record, which are the woodblocks. These are the unique original records. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty was assessed in the heritage records as follows: The 34,555 plates of wood-blocks of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) helped to record official literature and history as well as classic and historical books. Their value is at once documentary and artistic. Their technique furthermore represents a landmark in the development of woodblock carving and printing in Vietnam. Their importance and high value led feudal dynasties and state authorities to pay considerable attention to preserving these records through the ages. ~

The woodblock is a plate of wood on which words written in Chinese or Chinese transcribed Vietnamese were carved in reverse as a popular method of printing books in the Nguyen Dynasty. At present, 34,555 plates of woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty are being preserved in the National Archive Center 4 - under the State Records and Archives Department of Vietnam (at No. 2 Yet Kieu Str., Da Lat City). This is regarded as a valuable library of more than 152 book titles with about 1,935 books that have very rich contents and is divided into nine topics: history, geography, military affairs, legislation, prose and verse, religion - ideal - philosophy, language – literature, socio-politics, culture - education. ~

The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty were created primarily during the past activities of the Historiographer's Office of Nguyen Dynasty (established in 1820 under the Minh Mang reign) in Hue. Apart from the woodblocks of official literature and history of Nguyen Dynasty, woodblocks also included classic and historical books which were collected from the Temple of Literature of Imperial College (Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam) in Hanoi and transferred to Imperial College (Quoc Tu Giam) in Hue under the reigns of Minh Mang and Thieu Tri. Since 1960, the Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty have been transferred to Da Lat. ~

The woodblocks represent an important part of the country’s feudal history. They are original with clear origin from its creation. Most of them were compiled by the Court on the basis of official documents, which were carefully verified and were managed by state bodies through different historical periods. Due to such significant characteristics, woodblocks were considered as national treasure in feudal period, which could only be accessed by authorized people and people in Historiography's Office. ~

Regarding method of making the records, this is a close procedure costing a lot of time and effort: Firstly, the King launched a royal decree to allow to compile book. Then the Historiographer's Office was responsible in researching, editing, carving and printing those kinds of books. It researched old books and Imperial records to compile books. The completed manuscript was submitted to the King. Then this manuscript was sent back to the Office and they corrected as the King’s suggestions. After that, this manuscript was written down clearly and submitted with a petition to the King. After being approved, the manuscripts of the works were carved on woodblocks under the close control of the mandarins who were appointed by the king's edict. Then, woodblocks were used to print into books. People could only carve books under the Kings’ order. ~

To manipulate the records, the Historiographer's Office had to recruit many skilled carvers. The carvers selected from widely in localities across the country where is famous for wood carving, and the carving techniques were entirely manual. The words were carved on wood as contained all the enthusiasm of each worker. Each character engraved on the wood is very delicate and sharp. Each record is not only precious material but also a unique work of art. Therefore, apart from historical value, the woodblocks also have artistic values and values in manipulating technique, marking the development of woodblocks carving and printing profession in Viet Nam. ~

According to some documents, most of the wood blocks are made of thi tree wood and the nha dong tree, which is both soft and smooth with an ivory color. These kinds of wood are especially good for preserving the shape of the carvings. Therefore, even gone through hundreds of years the woodblocks have been still in good physical condition. In addition, le and tao trees are also used for carving woodblocks. The collection boasts many valuable and rare wood blocks, including Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (History of the Unification of Great Viet Nam) and Dai Nam Thuc Luc (Royal Annals of Great Viet Nam), Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc, Kham dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su le... They also include poems and literature works written by prominent kings like Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc. ~

Nowadays, woodblocks on the field of official literature and history of feudal dynasties like this kind of the documents are specially valuable and rare records of Viet Nam and also quite rare in the world. These records formed during the past activities of the Emperor and bodies under the feudal machinery of administration in Nguyen Dynasty. Woodblocks are sources of reliable history to help to study, compare, review relevant history materials to serve better for researching in the fields of Vietnamese history. ~

Dong Ho Painting Updated for the 21st Century

Bach Lien wrote in the VietNam News, "Farmers created Dong Ho traditional wood block prints in the past to express their lives and dreams. Now, young painter Pham Huy Thong has updated the traditional style with contemporary life. There is, for example, a historic Dong Ho painting called Nha Nong (Farmer), which features a farmer sitting next to her stout buffalo, which is ploughing the field, showing the rural life. [Source: Bach Lien, VietNam News, June 24, 2009 <+>]

"Thong invokes this famous work, but instead of a picture of contentment and the good life, his work features a farmer looking both bored and sad, sitting next to his buffalo. It is clear the man has lost his land and has had to announce the sale of his buffalo. His mobile phone number is written on the body of the buffalo, so interested buyers can more easily contact him. Here, Thong expresses his sympathy with the farmers who have had to become city dwellers after having lost their livelihood. <+>

"The boy in Thong’s complementary painting holds a microphone in his right hand and a radio in the other hand. He is singing karaoke. Surrounding him is a chaos of musical equipment. (Drum Procession), another traditional print, features a group of young men taking part in a joyful new year’s festival, full of colors and sounds, with drums, flags, fans and the parasol. Thong’s work shows children laughing while pushing an ice cream cart, playing musical instruments and making a lot of noise in the street. <+>

"In his works, he criticises the negative impact of economic development, industrial life, and corruption. However, the public can also see his optimism and hope for a better future. "Farmers living hundreds of years ago made paintings about their lives and dreams. Now, I base my works on this spirit, but bring into them the new stories and new breath of modern life," says Thong. "I call it ‘update’. It’s like when we update the news or update new software for an old computer. Life’s rhythms are so pressing. New problems can happen often. Those who have interest in life are always preoccupied with ‘updates’ in their mind." <+>

"Instead of using lacquer, the material that he used for many years, in this exhibit he uses mostly acrylics. "What makes an artist different from others, is his capacity to show his point of view. For me, with contemporary art, the choice of the subject and the attitude towards life are the decisive elements to decide the progress of the artist," Thong says. "The work of an artist reflects the rapport between the artist and the social environment. Therefore, in my early phase as an artist, I chose to directly focus on society in my art. I want to contribute in my own way to make society better," he said. "It’s a very new and creative way to talk about society’s stories. He managed to express his view of society with his own language; it’s good that he dares to do it with lots of humour," says visitor Vu Thanh Lan. <+>

"Thong was born in 1981; he graduated from the Hanoi Industrial Fine Arts College in 2004. He has held several exhibitions locally and internationally, and his paintings have been included in contemporary art collections abroad, as well. Recently, he quit his job as a teacher at the Architecture University to focus on being a full-time artist. <+>

Stone Stele Records of Royal Examinations of the Le and Mac Dynasties

In March 2010, the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee of Memory of the World recognized 82 steles which record the royal examinations of Le and Mac dynasties in Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam as world documentary heritage in the Memory of the World Program of UNESCO. Stone steles in Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam include 82 steles which record the royal examinations of Le and Mac dynasties (1442-1779). All steles are put on stone tortoises’ back to represent everlasting national quintessence and reflect historical and cultural values of Vietnam through 300 years. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In 1484, King Le Thanh Tong gave an order to erect the first 7 steles for the royal examinations held in 1442, 1448, 1463, 1466, 1475, 1478 and 1481 under Le So Dynasty. In next years, Le So Dynasty had 5 steles erected for the royal examinations held in 1487, 1496, 1502, 1511 and 1514. Under Mac Dynasty, only 2 steles were erected for the royal examinations held in 1518 (under Le So Dynasty) and 1529 because of civil war. Under Le Trung Hung Dynasty, the royal examinations were restored and hold regularly. In 1653, Le Trung Hung Dynasty had the most number of steles erected in Temple of Literature with 25 steles for the royal examinations held between 1554 and 1652. Then in 1717, 21 steles were erected for the royal examinations held between 1656 and 1715. With two large courses of stele erection and next regular stele erections, Le Trung Hung Dynasty had most steles erected in Temple of Literature (68/82). Under Tay Son and Nguyen dynasties, capital city was removed to Phu Xuan – Hue and steles were not erected in Van Mieu (Hanoi) any more. Nguyen Dynasty gave an order to erect steles in Van Mieu (Hue) from the royal examination held in 1822. ~

All the 82 steles are of the same model: the slab is flat with an arched pediment and tortoise-shaped base; the tortoise is rather big and looks strong; the steles are of different sizes. The steles are also unique in terms of their construction: stone was carefully selected, designed, decorated, and engraved with texts. This work must have required extraordinary patience and skill as it was done entirely by hand. At present, the 82 steles in Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam are still unique ones preserved constantly on the spot since they were erected. The inscriptions on all the steles are, in general, readable. The irreplaceability and rarity lie in the content of the steles, the mode and condition of their establishment, their historical and artistic value, and their social impact. They are lively evidence of the intellect, aptitude and dexterity of the Vietnamese people. ~

The 82 steles in Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam are unique ones in the world which have inscriptions. Their inscriptions record not only the names of the laureates of royal examinations held through nearly 300 years (1442 – 1779) but also information on history of the royal examinations; the successive dynasties’ conceptions of education, training and employing talent and their philosophy of state governance. Therefore the steles had a great social impact on education and training of talented citizens, encouraged contemporary people and people of the following generations in education. The inscriptions also contain such details as the date of the stele’s erection and the names and official posts of the inscription compilers, revisers, calligraphers, and engravers. It affirms that the steles are original, authentic and unique. Each stele is a true work of art as they are the results of master mind and hands of the best scholars, engravers and calligraphers over times. They are of great significance to the study of ancient documents in Chinese as the texts were written in Chinese characters, but read in Vietnamese way of pronunciation, so they can serve as references for those who study the former Vietnamese languages. Furthermore, these steles furnish valuable information about Vietnamese emissaries that would contribute to the study of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and other Northeast Asian countries. Among the 1304 doctoral laureates whose names are recorded on the steles, 225 were once assigned diplomatic missions to China under Ming and Qing dynasties. Using the steles as reliable documents, Vietnamese and foreign scholars can study the history, education and culture of Vietnam in the past, and young generations can absorb the traditions and values left by their ancestors. ~

Moreover, each stele is itself a vivid work of art with various designs: flowers, leaves, clouds, the moon; or the dragon, holy lion, tortoise and phoenix. Steles of each historic period are distinct from those of other periods. Distinctive features such as designs, decorative patterns, tortoise-shaped bases, and the type of Chinese characters used for their inscriptions preserve the steles’ originality and prevent attempts to produce replicas. Many art researchers consider the steles as important documents to study Vietnamese history of art and sculpture from the 15th to the 18th centuries. ~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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