France gives up on Nguyen Dynasty rickshaw

By Bui Ngoc Long, Thanh Nien News

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The rickshaw that King Thanh Thai, who ruled in Hue from 1889 to 1907, commissioned for his mother, is exhibited at Rouillac auction in France June 13. Photo credit: Phan Thanh Hai/Hue Relic Preservation Center   The rickshaw that King Thanh Thai, who ruled in Hue from 1889 to 1907, commissioned for his mother, is exhibited at Rouillac auction in France June 13. Photo credit: Phan Thanh Hai/Hue Relic Preservation Center

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The French culture ministry agreed to relinquish its claim to a royal rickshaw purchased at auction early this month by preservationists in Hue.
Phan Thanh Hai, director of Hue Relic Preservation Center, said France’s Ministry of Culture and Communication withdrew from the dispute over the rickshaw that King Thanh Thai--the tenth emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945)--commissioned for his mother.
Thanh Thai ruled from 1889 to 1907 and was known as a patriotic king who was one of three rulers -- including his predecessor Ham Nghi and his son Duy Tan -- to be dethroned and banished for opposing French colonial powers.
The king's ornate rickshaw and bed were sold at a Rouillac auction in Tours on June 13.
The Hue center made the winning bid of 55,800 euros (US$76,000) on the rickshaw but the Guimet Asian Arts Museum in Paris immediately sought to buy it back.
Katia Mollet, a representative of the museum, said at the end of the auction that the French government offered to buy the cart for the same price, citing a French law that allows the country to swoop in and purchase cultural relics even after they are auctioned.
But the conflict has been settled on Vietnam’s favor, the Vietnam embassy in France announced Wednesday night.
The embassy earlier promised to campaign through influential French cultural experts to help win back the rickshaw, which was made of rare trac hardwood and inlaid with mother of pearl.
Ta Van Quang, a descendent of the king, bought the bed for 124,000 Euros ($168,000) and is making plans to send it back to Hue, where the Nguyen family established their kingdom.
Research suggests that the king transferred his assets including the bed and the rickshaw to his chief French guard, Prosper Jourdan, in a note written prior to his banishment in 1907.
Historian Duong Trung Quoc informed the Hue center that Jourdan’s children were selling the items at auction.
Hai, who joined the event via telephone, said he has updated Nguyen Van Cao, chairman of Thua Thien-Hue Province on the “good news” and Cao has agreed to pay more money for the rickshaw as well as bring it back to Vietnam.
The province earlier agreed to chip in 33,000 euros for the two items; the embassy in France raised another 7,000 euros from the local Vietnamese expatriate community.
Hai said it is the first time the province helped recover cultural relics with its budget.
He said Vietnam should organize national campaigns to gather resources to retrieve such overseas treasures like the governments in China, South Korea and Japan have been doing.
“I earnestly suggest that we open such campaigns for Vietnamese people all over the world to join in discovering, collecting and bringing the country’s treasures back to their homeland.”
Hai said a lot of Vietnamese antiques remain scattered all over the world due to its history of wars and invasions.
Few recovery efforts have succeeded due to a lack of money and information.
At one auction in Paris in November 2010, the Déclin du jour (Decline of day) painting by King Ham Nghi (1872-1943), the eighth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, who reigned 1884-1885 and was exiled to Algeria in 1888, was purchased by an unidentified individual who bid 8,800 euros ($11,900) via telephone.
A Vietnamese woman named To Nga stopped at 8,600 euros.

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