When Prof Ha Dinh Duc, aka Dr. Turtle, insisted that the turtle in Hoan Kiem, or Sword Lake, in Hanoi should be declared a national treasure, it raised many eyebrows.
Some scholars dismiss the argument that it should be bestowed the recognition since it has “human value” given its relationship to the legend of King Le Loi returning a heaven-sent sword to a turtle in the lake in the mid-14tth century after defeating Chinese invaders.
They say it is just a legend whereas the law stipulates that a national treasure must have “special significance” related to historical events. Thus, it is not possible to confer the recognition on the turtle that has inhabited the lake for years and believed by many to be the legendary turtle, they say.
Moreover, the insistence of Duc makes one wonder about the importance of titles.
It is true that when someone or something is conferred a title, their significance is highlighted and recognized, but it has very little to do with the public’s attitude towards them.
Vietnam, for instance, is home to many sites and cultural heritages that were bestowed international and national titles, but not many get proper protection despite the efforts by scholars and scientists.
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site in the northern province of Quang Ninh, is infamous for littering and environmental pollution.
Tram Gian (hundreds of rooms), a millennium-old pagoda in Hanoi, underwent an unauthorized renovation last year with part of its structure being replaced with new works.
So what’s the point in conferring a fancy title on a “sacred” reptile that is already referred to by folks as Cụ (a term of endearment for someone very old)?
In response to Duc’s proposal, a member of the National Heritage Council said: “If it [the turtle] is important, it should be named in a red list, not as a national treasure.”
In fact, international scientists have concluded the turtle is one of only four known soft-shell Rafetus swinhoei left in the world.
Thus, the Hoan Kiem turtle does not need any recognition to highlight its cultural importance since it has already has that.
Actions and plans that help raise people’s awareness of protecting it as a rare species are needed more.
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By Thanh Thao, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the March 15th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)