Authorities urged to make Vietnam royal records more accessible

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 An exhibition of  Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) royal records / FILE PHOTO

As Vietnam prepares to submit a set of 19th century royal records for UNESCO world heritage recognition, it is time local authorities made the documents more accessible, researchers argue.

The administrative records of Vietnam's last ruling Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) are almost never accessed by the public or even serious researchers for that matte, mostly because they haven't been translated or digitized, experts said. 

Dao Hai Yen with the Center for National Archives in Hanoi, where the records are being kept, said 453 people came to read the documents between 2005 and 2012, with the highest annual number of readers at 136 and the lowest 15.

This means 56-57 people read them every year on average, or one person per week, she said.

Most of them were historians and researchers of Han Nom, an old script combining Han Chinese with Vietnamese ideography.

"The lack of people interested in the Nguyen Dynasty records should be considered abnormal," Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc, former head of the Institute of Vietnamese Study and Development, told Thanh Nien.

It is also a "pity," because many international researchers have expressed their interest in the records, he said.

Dr. Dao Thi Dien with the national archive center, said late French professor Philippe Langlet had intended to approach one of the original records on dykes and dyke maintenance when he came to Hanoi for an international conference on Vietnamese studies in 1998.

However, the professor, who was once honored for his significant contributions to making Vietnamese culture and history known to the world, was unable to fulfill his plan.

At that time the records were not allowed to be accessed for research activities due to their deteriorating physical condition, so Langlet ended up using an incomplete translation of the records, Dien said.

To read the records now, one must have permission from the Government Office, Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army) newspaper reported. 

Dr. Tran Trong Duong, a Han Nom researcher, said not all researchers can read the characters, and it is not easy to translate the records because the translator must have expertise in the fields mentioned in the documents.

According to Dien, authorities need to make the records more accessible by, for example, digitizing their contents, while having them translated and publishing the translations as well as related documents.

"It is time the records were socialized so that scientists in Vietnam as well as around the world no longer accepted the similar pity like Prof. Philippe Langlet did," she said.

The Nguyen records once contain 735 sets of thousands of documents that were sealed by the ruling kings. But many of them were lost or damaged during war time, Prof. Phan Huy Le, chairman of the Vietnamese Association of Historical Sciences, said.

Last year a set of 3,050 woodblocks emblazoned with Buddhist sutras, also from the Nguyen Dynasty, were recognized as a World Documentary Heritage by UNESCO.

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