Game changer?

By Kim Nga, Thanh Nien News

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The slick Than Dong Dat Viet comic series lays out evidence of Vietnam’s historical sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands in kid-sized pieces

Phan Thi Company’s Than Dong Dat Viet (Prodigies of Vietnam) comics for children, which used to be based mostly on fables and myths, have broken free from the pack with a new series about Vietnam’s sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands.

The 10-episode series features Ti, Than Dong Dat Viet’s staple hero, a fictional prodigy who lived in centuries past, and his sidekicks Suu, Dan, and Meo. 
Over the years each of the popular comic’s 100-odd issues has been about one of Ti’s adventures with his friends. 
Its compelling mix of folk stories with a dash of true history and funny illustrations and dialogue has meant it is the only local comic to manage to withstand the onslaught of western comics and manga.
It has now turned its sights to educating children about the country’s historical era, when the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) imposed its sovereignty over the islands.
The first episode, titled Khang dinh chu quyen (Assertion of Sovereignty) and released last September, was well received by both readers and experts. 
“It [Phan Thi’s special edition] is a good and laudable deed, particularly since we are in a stalemate over history education for years,” wrote blogger Phuoc Beo. 
“It is an appealing and appropriate way to raise awareness of the country’s history among the younger generation.” 
Historian Dr. Nguyen Nha, who edited the comics, said at the launching ceremony: “Recalling history is a way to show your patriotism and pay tribute to those who have sacrificed to protect the country.”
Phan Thi My Hanh, director of Phan Thi Company, told Vietweek that the lack of children’s books about Vietnam’s marine history persuaded her to publish the first comics on the subject. 
“Historical book like Dai Viet su ky toan thu (complete annals of Dai Viet - official historical text of the Le Dynasty in the 14th century) are a big challenge for children [to understand].” 
“The comics [Than Dong Dat Viet] could help them absorb history more easily,” she said
But it is not simple to create a comic strip on a historical theme, she said. 
“We spent a year just to collect and understand a lot of historical documents. Creating a storyline suitable for children was another difficulty. We discarded an almost fully done episode of 108 pages since it did not meet our expectation. And it took months to replace. “
The reference sources included tons of books by many publishers and old newspapers. 
The second comic in the series, titled Lanh tho An Nam (An Nam Territory), was published last December, and the third, Kham pha Hoang Sa (Exploring the Paracels), will be released during the street book festival in Ho Chi Minh City next month. 
According to a Phan Thi communications executive, the series will lay out the evidence proving Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands in the past, explore the islands’ terrain, and describe how the Nguyen Dynasty’s military vessels operated. 
Hanh said though the series is about history, the comic’s traditional humor has been retained. 
Interestingly, after the first issue the Chinese media seemed to go into a frenzy over the evidence laid out of the Nguyen Dynasty’s first emperor, Gia Long, establishing Vietnam’s sovereignty over the waters and islands of the East Sea in the early 19th century. 
The comic also evokes Minh Mang (the Nguyen’s second emperor)’s resolution on Vietnam’s self-determination and his planting the first national flag on Paracel.
“Whether they [Chinese] object or not, the historical evidence is immutable,” Hanh said. 
“It is our and society’s responsibility to enrich children’s knowledge of their national history.”
She said luckily the comics have been hailed by the local media and supported by readers. 
“Many schools and district youth unions also helped take the books to students. We received a lot of feedback, which will improve the coming episodes.”    
Netizens attributed the comics’ success to Phan Thi’s cleverness in using a hot-button social issue like the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. 
Hanh told online newspaper Voice of Vietnam that she is not too worried about profits from this series. The comics cost VND32,000 (US$1.6) each and would be translated into English, Japanese, and Chinese for online circulation and free download, she said.
Earlier Tuoi Tre Publishing House published an educational picture book series for children with one episode being titled Bu Bu di du lich Truong Sa (Bu Bu travels to Spratly). But it was about the islands’ landscapes. 
Nguyen Huy Thang, editorial director of publisher Kim Dong, told VOV that his company too plans to publish children’s books on the country’s coastal region.

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