Hanoi's return to elegance

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 Students ride bicycles along a street in Hanoi. A researcher says the cultural fabric of Hanoi is fading among today's youth.

Hanoians are well-known for their elegance, but it now is being worn among some youths.

Hanoi expert Nguyen Vinh Phuc told Thanh Nien Weekly that he hopes that the 1,000th anniversary celebration will reignite a sense of pride in the city's traditional customs and lifestyle.

Thanh Nien Weekly: How did Hanoi develop as a city?

Nguyen Vinh Phuc: Hanoi is now mostly made up of people from other localities (Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Bac Giang, Ha Nam, etc.).

During the 19th century, Thang Long imperial city (now Hanoi) consisted of a small area, which now makes up the city's four central districts Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung and Dong Da. Today, this area's population is also small and mainly comprised of transplants.

Most of Hanoi's craft trades originated in other provinces, for example, silver smiths came in from Hai Duong, Venetian blind craftsmen began in Bac Ninh, and silk dyers (which contributed to the establishment of Hanoi's Hang Dao Street) hailed from Hai Duong.

Goods from other provinces were also transported to Hanoi - salt from the coastal areas of Thanh Hoa and fish sauces from Nghe An. Sleeping mats were brought in from Thanh Hoa.

As a result, dozens of riverside streets cropped up (along the Hong River) to trade goods arriving from other localities.

How did Hanoi's particular culture evolve out of all of this?

Hanoi expert Nguyen Vinh Phuc

Hanoi was once an imperial city, a home to people of the noble and mandarin level, so its residents cultivated imperial customs. Migrants from other localities to Hanoi learned the lifestyle, which featured dainty dining and drinking rituals, gentle speaking, elegant dress, and reserved movements, etc.

Migrants adapted this elegant set of customs, which came to be known as the imperial quintessence. Migrants trickled to Hanoi (not in as great a volume and as quick a manner as now) so they had enough time to learn and integrate into the elegant culture of the Trang An people (Hanoians).

In the period of French domination (1858-1945), Hanoians' customs experienced a massive European influence, but they still managed to maintain their elegant character.

However, the elegance faded during nearly 30 years of wars, including nine years against French colonialism, and 20 years against American imperialism. At that time, Hanoians had to evacuate to rural areas, living there as refugees. During this time, their elegant customs were strained by hardship.

After the country's reunification (in 1975), large numbers of rural people quickly rushed to Hanoi. They didn't have enough time to adapt to Hanoi's traditional customs. In the end, this rapid integration was accompanied by both good and bad things, all of which have contributed to Hanoi's modern lifestyle.

What remains of Hanoi's elegant customs today?

Most Hanoians still maintain their traditional culture: they respect one another and respect the community. Most Hanoians still follow the pleasant traditions of their ancestors, which, along with the state's measures, are expected to help bring Hanoi back into the orbit of civilization and elegance.

What should Hanoi do to keep its fine traditions going?

Hanoi's authorities have launched a program to promote civility and family values. The movement's central idea is a good one, but it has not been implemented in an adequate and continuous manner.

The movement should be built organically, from families to residential wards. Meanwhile, schools should pay more attention to the moral education of their students. The youth union and the associations of women and war veterans should also participate in the activities, as the cultural fabric of Hanoi is fading among today's youth.

The millennium anniversary festival is a chance for people to reflect on themselves and plan a life more worthy of their great cultural legacy. I am very happy to see that the festival has got off to a smooth start - there have been no traffic accidents, no quarrels in the streets and the splendidly decorated boulevards have not been vandalized or destroyed by the crowds. I think this is the sign of a return to a civilized and elegant lifestyle.

How would you briefly introduce Hanoi to our readers?

Hanoi is still the heart of the whole country. Hundreds of arteries converge at the heart. People from everywhere still rush to Hanoi. Hanoi is the place where the whole country's quintessence gathers.

Hanoians, besides exhibiting the patriotism that is the moral constancy of all Vietnamese people, are intelligent and talented. Being the place that the whole country's quintessence gathers, Hanoi is home to many excellent students, writers and poets.

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