Monumental blunder

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Historic relics suffer as Hue pays excessive attention to one dynasty


Thousands of artifacts dating back to prehistoric age and the Sa Huynh Culture (1,000 BC and 200 AD) excavated from Con Rang and Con Dai archaeological sites are stored in a dilapidated warehouse belonging to the Thua ThienHue Museum of History and Revolution. On rainy days, people cover the artifacts with raincoats and waterproof cloth.

The ancient capital of Hue is a land rich with culture and a history of at least 2,500 years, but the recognition of its cultural and historical heritage is dominated far too much by the Nguyen Dynasty, experts say.

The Nguyen Dynasty ruled Vietnam for 144 years, from 1802 to 1946.

However, said researcher Ho Tan Phan, "They [local researchers] just focus on the Nguyen Dynasty, forgetting and ignoring other periods, including the prehistoric age, the Cham culture, and 700 years of the Ly, Tran, Ho and Le dynasties from the 14th century, as if Hue has only had the Nguyen Dynasty.

"Each historical period has its own value. That we keep focusing only on a certain period will lead us to improper on co tri tan (Remembering the old to know the new)."

According to a report by the Hue Ancient Capital Relics Preservation Center, since 1990, the center has received VND25-50 billion (US$1.3- 2.6 million) every year to protect and maintain the Nguyen emperors' Complex of Monuments, which was acknowledged as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 1993. Recently, the government approved a budget of VND2.3 trillion ($115 million) for Thua Thien-Hue Province to implement the overall preservation of relics in Hue for the 2011-2020 period.

The total investment on the Complex of Monuments for the past 15 years is quite small ($20 million), just enough to build a small bridge. However, it is also a huge number when compared to the $150,000 used to maintain 870 other relics in Hue every year which is just enough to temporarily prevent them from degradation, according to director Phan Tien Dung of the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

"This imbalanced policy has led many relics to suffer and pushed them to serious degradation at present," Dung said.

Thousands of artifacts dating back to prehistoric age and the Sa Huynh Culture (1,000 BC and 200 AD) excavated from the Con Rang and Con Dai archaeological sites are kept in a dilapidated warehouse belonging to the Thua Thien-Hue Museum of History and Revolution. The museum has no space to display these artifacts, according to its director Cao Huy Hung, who said he feels ashamed to open its doors to visitors.

"In rainy days, we have to cover the objects with raincoats or waterproof cloths," Hung said, "and thousands of valuable and rare artifacts have had to "˜migrate' to the Temple of Literature inside the Complex of Monuments for more than 30 years."

The Temple of Literature itself is in degradation now, Hung said, from the display area to the museum staffs' office, so they have to cover documents and other artifacts with raincoats as well.

Due to the limited space at present, the museum only displays objects from the 1930-1954 and 1954- 1975 periods, apart from a gallery of artifacts representing different periods in Vietnamese history.

Outside the museum, the Cham culture's twin towers Lieu Coc in Phong Dien District have been damaged to such an extent that nothing remains, although they were in good shape ten years ago. The Thanh Loi relic, located in the center of Hue Town was removed from the cadastral map in 1997 and later encroached upon by private buildings.

The tombs of the Nguyen lords in southwestern Hue have been abandoned except for visits by descendants to clear them and offer incense during death anniversaries.

Ngo Hoa, deputy chairperson of the Thua Thien-Hue People's Committee, said that though there were many activities organized in the area to promote Hue's diverse cultures during different historical periods, "It is not an exaggeration to say that the Nguyen Dynasty has attracted too much attention from us."

According to researcher, Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, the cultural heritage created during Nguyen Dynasty in Hue is so great and massive that it seemingly obscures what existed before and after its time. In addition, in more than one century, the Nguyen Dynasty had created a cultural heritage equivalent to what their predecessors did in the previous 18 centuries.

"Researchers from Hue prefer the Nguyen Dynasty for the vast number of documents available related to the period," Son said.

Back to the issue of the degraded museum in the province, according to researchers Tran Duc Anh Son and Nguyen Phuoc Hai Trung, director of the Hue Royal Fine Arts Museum, "A proper, well-constructed museum building alone cannot change the situation, for most museums in Vietnam are considered administrative units, and do not have enough archaeologists and expert care, especially in Hue, where most museum staff are transferred from other sectors."

All the culture experts and researchers agree that in order to deal with the situation, Hue should have a comprehensive policy on research, conservation and promotion of the values of all historical periods in the province.

They say an archaeological map of the province and the establishment of a department of archaeologists under the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism should be a top priority.

HAVE YOUR SAY:

I lived in Hue, in a compound for foreigners (mostly German & French doctors) on Le Loi Street overlooking the Perfume River, for several months in the spring of 1962. I was staying with my father, Dr. Joseph Jenks, who taught histology at the University of Hue. A part of my heart will always be in Hue, so I was troubled by your report on the fate of prehistoric artifacts in the museum there. I hope that a way can be found to protect that ancient heritage. To focus only on a more recent period seems very short-sighted. Thank you.
Dr. Kathleen JenksUse SHIFT+ENTER to open the menu (new window).

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