Hue bringing home royal rickshaw from France, hopes to retrieve plundered relics

By Bui Ngoc Long, Thanh Nien News

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A royal rickshaw that Hue conservation authorities have retrieved from France after more than a century is coming home this month, and it might inspire more efforts to get back the other rickshaw and more lost antiques.
Phan Thanh Hai, director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center, said the rickshaw would arrive in Vietnam on April 14 from the Vietnamese embassy in France which has the relic now.
The rickshaw was made by King Thanh Thai, the 10th emperor of Vietnam’s last dynasty, the Nguyens, who ruled in Hue, for his Mother Queen Tu Minh.
Thanh Thai, who ruled from 1889 to 1907, was known as a patriotic king and was one of three rulers – including his predecessor Ham Nghi and his son Duy Tan – to be dethroned and banished for opposing the French colonizers.
His ornate rickshaw was made of rare trac hardwood and inlaid with mother of pearl.

The rickshaw made by King Thanh Thai at the turn of the 19th century is at the Vietnamese embassy in France, waiting to be shipped back home. File photo

The Hue center made the winning bid of 55,800 euros (US$76,000) for the rickshaw at a Rouillac auction in Tours last June.
The Thua Thien-Hue Province government contributed 42,800 euros and the rest was raised from the public, including Vietnamese living abroad.
A bed used by the king also went under the hammer, but the center could not afford it, and Ta Van Quang, a royal descendant, bought it for 124,000 euros ($168,000).
Hai said the center would showcase the rickshaw at an exhibition of royal chairs and palanquins at the former citadel on April 22.
Vietnam Airlines has offered to bring the rickshaw home at half the fare.
Research suggests that King Thanh Thai gave some items as gifts, including the bed and the rickshaw, to his French chief guard Prosper Jourdan prior to his banishment in 1907.
Hai said Vietnam lost thousands of relics between the 1770s and 1972 due to its history of wars and invasions, and most of the items are now in France.

A Nguyen Dynasty prince’s throne is being kept at the National Palace Museum of Korea in Seoul. File photo

He said the biggest loss from Hue was in July 1885 when French had control of the citadel and looted many things.
A record of events by Père Siefert, a French priest who witnessed the start of the invasion, says French soldiers stole whatever they could, from diamonds, jewelry inlaid with diamonds and pearls, crowns and royal costumes to beds and tables, teapots, embroidered curtains, and even toothpicks.
The rickshaw is the first relic Vietnam has managed to recover.
“The success has great meaning,” Hai said.
“It will bolster the national spirit and hopefully bring about efforts to get back more precious Vietnamese relics from other countries.”
He said the Foreign Ministry is negotiating for Vietnam to join the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property which requires countries to return stolen artifacts to their rightful owners.
“The system will allow us to negotiate with other member countries to bring our antiques home.”

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